Cerebral palsy (CP) is a brain (neurological) disorder that causes problems with normal motor function. It is a lifelong condition that affects how the brain and muscles communicate. CP affects body movement, muscle control, coordination, reflexes, posture, and balance. These problems are caused by damage to or abnormal development of certain brain areas. But many children with cerebral palsy have normal intelligence. CP can range in severity, but it doesn’t get worse over time. CP does not get better over time either. With diagnosis and treatment, children can learn how to manage their condition.
CP occurs when there is abnormal development of or damage to areas of the brain that control motor function. This can happen before or during birth (congenital CP). Most of CP is congenital. Less commonly, CP can happen after birth. This is called acquired CP and usually happens from an infection or head injury.
In many cases, the exact cause of CP is not known. It may be the result of a problem such as:
A child is more at risk for CP because of any of the following:
Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. A child may have muscle weakness, poor motor control, or shaking (spasticity) of the arms or legs. A child may also have muscle stiffness in the form of stiff legs or clenched fists.
The symptoms depend on what type of CP a child has. The types and symptoms include:
Babies with CP are often slow to reach developmental motor milestones. These may include learning to roll over, sit, crawl, or walk. They may also keep certain reflexes that normally disappear in early infancy.
Children with CP may have additional problems. But these are not signs or symptoms of CP. CP refers only to the motor dysfunction. The additional problems may include:
The symptoms of CP can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
A diagnosis of CP is not usually made until a child is at least 6 to 12 months old. This is when a child should be reaching developmental milestones. These include sitting, standing, and walking, plus hand and head control. The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she will give your child a physical exam.
Your child may also have tests, such as:
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. CP is a lifelong condition that has no cure. Because of this, your child’s healthcare providers will work to:
A child is treated by a healthcare team that may include:
Management of CP may include:
Talk with your child’s healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all treatments.
Possible complications vary widely from child to child. Treatment for complications will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how serious the condition is. Your child’s healthcare provider will discuss treatment choices with you.
Because doctors don’t know fully what causes congenital CP, little can be done to prevent it. CP related to gene problems can’t be prevented. But you can do certain things that might help reduce the risk:
After birth, acquired CP is often caused by an infection or injury. Some of these cases can be prevented by helping keep your baby healthy and safe:
CP is a lifelong condition that has no cure. It can range in severity, but it doesn’t get worse over time. The full extent of CP is usually not fully known right after birth. It can become clearer as a child grows and develops. With diagnosis and treatment, children can learn how to manage their condition.
Your child’s healthcare providers will work to prevent deformities or keep them to a minimum. They will also work to help your child make the most of his or her capabilities. You can help your child strengthen his or her self-esteem and be as independent as possible. Physical and occupational rehabilitation, plus extra support in school, can help a child function as well as possible.
Call the healthcare provider if your child has:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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